Divorce Can Wreck a Woman’s Financial Future. Here’s How to Rebuild. (2023)


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Women who have gone through a divorce often see their savings and retirement depleted. Building back means careful planning.

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Divorce Can Wreck a Woman’s Financial Future. Here’s How to Rebuild. (1)

By Lela Nargi

Twenty years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, a mom friend predicted my future: The baby will come and — from exhausted necessity — you and your husband will divide tasks, which will fall on either side of outdated gender lines. At the time, I smugly demurred, but eventually there was no denying she had been right. I was a freelance writer who took on the role of caring for our child and house; my husband, who had access to financial advisers and retirement funds through his university job, saw to our shared finances.

Our dual incomes didn’t exactly add up to wealth, so it made sense to pool our stretched assets — or so it seemed until we separated two years ago. I had a very small individual retirement account of my own. But since my husband’s university matched a percentage of his retirement savings, we had used more of my income to pay monthly expenses and more of his to invest in a 401(k) in his name, with the understanding that it would cover both of us when we stopped working.

Although this money would theoretically be equitably divided when divorce papers were signed, I realized the precarious situation I had unwittingly set myself up for: I had relinquished control over my financial future. As I faced reduced income and the extra expenses that come with divorce proceedings, wresting it back would be painful.

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Preparing for a financial setback

I’m hardly alone. Divorced Americans are more likely than those who never experienced divorce to lack enough savings to retire at 65 with their accustomed quality of life, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Mothers often take the brunt of the financial hit because of “both the expense of raising children and the negative consequences for their earnings of having child care and family responsibilities,” said Maria Cancian, dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Women of color are also disproportionately affected because of a wider gender pay gap.

“A lot of my clients in their 30s and 40s feel like they are underneath the mark of where they should be in terms of having saved for retirement,” including those facing divorce, said Aja Evans, a New York financial therapist and licensed mental health counselor, who addresses the emotional factors around finances with her clientele of mostly Black women. “They have a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, about not having saved enough.”

Ms. Cancian said married couples could rely on each other — and their family health insurance plans — when one spouse experienced a layoff or health issue. “It’s harder to get by as single people because you lose economies of scale,” she said. That means you now need to pay for two places to live, two cars, two emergency funds and so on.

Crawling back up to “the top of the food chain,” in the words of Debra Kaplan, a licensed therapist in Tucson, Ariz., can take years. Ms. Kaplan needed 10 years to regain the standard of living she had before her divorce, slowly increasing her earning power and putting aside some money for incidentals, as well as retirement.

Negotiating your retirement and joint savings

New York and 40 other states grant an equitable split of maritally accumulated assets and debt. But there are circumstances that can preclude access to them (including financial infidelity, where a spouse hides money) and a slew of ways to determine how they’re apportioned.

You might ask for less of your spouse’s 401(k) and Social Security benefit and more of your joint savings, to pay for health insurance after you’re knocked off your spouse’s plan. You might equally split the proceeds from the sale of the family house and ask for none of your spouse’s retirement money, believing your own to be ample.

Lori Stevenson, a certified public accountant in Minneapolis who divorced two years ago after a 32-year marriage, took a smaller cut of her ex’s retirement savings (she had both a 401(k) and an I.R.A.) and agreed to pay her youngest son’s final two years of college tuition in exchange for keeping the house.

Divorce lawyers frequently broker deals like these. But the way they approach marital assets can be different from the way a financial planner would view things, said Kristina George, a wealth manager and partner at Northstar Financial Planning in Windham, N.H. Lawyers who don’t know the tax consequences of stock options or retaining a house, say, might “trade assets” in ways that are “not apples for apples,” Ms. George said.

Ms. George pointed out that one of the greatest upheavals from divorce is the way it changes how a person is taxed. Women filing as heads of households for the first time may get walloped, so it’s important to have a tax projection along with the divorce decree, Ms. George said.

Without expert guidance, either ex-spouse can land in financial hot water. Tales abound of people finding themselves priced out of gentrifying local housing markets after selling the family house, necessitating moves to other states to squeeze the most out of now-too-scant retirement savings.

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After divorce, Ms. Stevenson shifted from part-time to full-time work; it’s a move that Karen D. Sparks, a certified divorce financial analyst in Santa Clara, Calif., said requires a career-training refresher for many older women, which she factors into post-divorce budgets. Eventually, though, Ms. Stevenson’s work hours were reduced and she is now in debt, on a constricted budget and unable to save.

Dawn Pick Benson, 50, is a copywriter and travel coach living in Grand Rapids, Mich. When she filed for divorce from her husband of 18 years in 2018, she had a lawyer ready to negotiate the division of a house, a sailboat, two cars, joint savings and checking accounts, and individual savings and retirement accounts for each spouse — although Ms. Benson’s retirement fund was smaller. But she had no idea what division made long-term sense, or what kind of trouble she’d get into if her lawyer chose incorrectly. In a panic, she contacted Liza Caldwell, a co-founder of SAS for Women, an organization offering divorce coaching and other educational resources.

Ms. Caldwell recommended a certified divorce financial analyst, who told Ms. Benson to hold on to her house, since she could rent it when she traveled to help pay off the mortgage. This meant giving up the rest of the joint assets (save one car) and her ex-husband’s individual and retirement savings. She also paid him a small cash adjustment to ensure an even split of the value of all assets.

But with no children and at least 15 years until retirement, Ms. Benson has time to build back. The experience helped her feel like “it’s not just me on my own, making my way,” she said.

Finding financial education and support

Hiring a financial expert can strain budgets already sapped from paying divorce lawyers and mediators. Alison Borel, 49, a substitute teacher in San Diego, filed for divorce in August and feels that expert help is out of reach until she can save enough money. She’s also waiting to take advantage of myriad online financial support groups to educate herself better. Ms. Stevenson has attended a few divorce webinars organized by financial planners, most of them free. They’ve helped her draft detailed budgets that help keep her spending in line and plan for emergencies.

SAS for Women offers free events, including a seminar called “Preparing Your Financials for the Negotiation Table.” The last time it was posted, Ms. Caldwell said, 248 women signed up immediately. She also said Savvy Ladies, a financial literacy nonprofit that offers free financial education and advising, was a useful resource.

Ms. George sends people to a resource site hosted by the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, a nonprofit. Books offer plenty of information, too; Ms. Evans, the financial therapist in New York, favors those by the “Budgetnista,” Tiffany Aliche. Advice runs the gamut, from finding a certified divorce financial analyst to work with, figuring out a secondary income stream and going back to school to kick-starting a more lucrative career path.

There’s also a proliferation of less-formal online communities. Suzy Nguyen, a divorced New York writer and a women’s financial literacy advocate, runs a monthly group called Women & Finance: Conversations Into Action, in which members share their financial experiences and advice.

“I’m post-divorce and figuring out how to save enough for retirement,” Ms. Nguyen said. She said her financial adviser projected that she would run out of money by the time she turned 80, in part because of the high living costs in New York. She’s planning to rent apartments for short terms in less expensive cities, including Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Berlin to see if she can find an amenable community with good health care and other resources.


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A challenging road to a comfortable retirement

Experts say building back a retirement fund is possible no matter what your age, although older women face a challenging path. “Folks in their mid-60s, who are done working, have a very difficult time recovering, and that’s a growing segment” of the divorced population, Ms. George said. In fact, women who divorce later in life experience a 45 percent decline in their standard of living. With these clients, Ms. George focuses on dividing what retirement assets exist and tapping into tools like reverse mortgages to secure homes and standards of living.

For women with more time, Ms. George’s three-part plan includes making a budget review, paying down debt to jump-start an emergency fund and then figuring out how to replenish retirement money.

Ms. Sparks, the divorce financial analyst, advises clients to put away 30 percent of their earnings toward retirement, to be divided equally between living and discretionary expenses, and aging care costs. This, said Ms. Kaplan, the Tucson therapist, requires steadfast frugality: “There aren’t going to be a lot of nights out, and there aren’t going to be a lot of vacations.”

Although facing a solitary financial future can be terrifying, it can also feel empowering. Being forced to look unflinchingly at my earnings and just how far they can (and cannot) stretch has made me methodical in figuring out how to cut expenses so I can increase my monthly I.R.A. contributions, and there’s satisfaction in watching them grow ever so slowly. This control is a relief — one I wish I had granted myself years ago.


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(Video) 6 Things Getting Divorced Taught Me About Money | The Lifestyle Fix


Can divorce ruin you financially? ›

Depending on your employment status, divorce may decrease your income for several reasons. For one, when you and your partner divorce, you're no longer supported by their income. That means you'll be relying solely on yourself for support.

Who suffers more financially after divorce? ›

Although this might seem like a relatively large number, the truth is that women suffer much more on average. Other studies have come to even more interesting conclusions.

How do I rebuild my wealth after divorce? ›

Here are some tips to help you rebuild your life with no money after a divorce.
  1. First, Take Time to Recover Psychologically. ...
  2. Take Inventory of Your Assets and Debts. ...
  3. Look for Financial Support from the Government. ...
  4. Move in with Family. ...
  5. Strengthen Your Credit Score. ...
  6. Get Organized.
Feb 8, 2023

How do I rebuild my life after divorce without money? ›

How to Start Over After Divorce With No Money
  1. First, Build a support system.
  2. Gain clarity on your financial situation.
  3. Set up bank accounts in your own name.
  4. Enforce a Divorce Settlement.
  5. Account for child or spousal support.
  6. Recover from Financial Abuse.
  7. Strengthen your credit score and work down debt balances.
Jul 1, 2022

Who loses the most in a divorce? ›

While many men are quick to say that their ex-wives took everything, including the dog—or that is what many country songs lead you to believe, anyway—the truth is that women often fare worse in a divorce.

Why divorce is bad financially? ›

Legal fees, court costs, therapist bills, new living expenses, and myriad other costs will drain your financial resources. Money previously used to support one household must now stretch to support two. If you are contemplating divorce, now is the time to begin amassing the funds you'll need to stay afloat.

What is the number #1 cause of divorce money? ›

Nearly half of couples with $50,000 or more in debt say money is their top reason for arguing. Nearly 2/3 of all marriages start in debt. 1/3 of people who argue with their spouse about money admit to hiding purchases because they know their partner won't approve.

Do most men regret divorce? ›

According to a survey, 39% of men regret being divorced. But it is not as simple as it seems. This statistic has many layers to it – for example, a man who has committed marital wrongdoing that triggered the divorce may regret the event, but a man who has been wronged during the marriage may not regret it.

How divorce changes a woman? ›

Divorce puts a strain on the financial, social, and emotional relationships of the partners. This time particularly can be devastating for women who may lose confidence, be forced into custody issues, and may lose hope of ever finding happiness again. Some women find it hard to return to their normal self again.

How do I stop being financially ruined after divorce? ›

If divorce is looming, here are six ways to protect yourself financially.
  1. Identify all of your assets and clarify what's yours. Identify your assets. ...
  2. Get copies of all your financial statements. Make copies. ...
  3. Secure some liquid assets. Go to the bank. ...
  4. Know your state's laws. ...
  5. Build a team. ...
  6. Decide what you want — and need.
Dec 31, 2019

Can my husband leave me with no money? ›

The law states that half of their income is yours. But if your spouse chooses to ignore this law and cut you off financially you will need a court order to force a spouse to share the income. It will take 90 days to see a judge and to get such a court order. 90 days of no income can feel like a lifetime.

How do you accept your marriage is over? ›

How to Accept That Your Marriage Is Over
  1. When It's Over. The partner not wanting the divorce may not understand why the other person isn't willing to try to work it out. ...
  2. The Road to Recovery. ...
  3. Embrace Your New Life. ...
  4. Look Outside Yourself. ...
  5. Practice Letting Go. ...
  6. Look for Joy. ...
  7. Make a Plan. ...
  8. Be Self Aware.

What to replace after divorce? ›

Update your mailing address with credit card companies, banks, motor vehicle department and insurance companies. If you changed your name as a result of the divorce, get a new Social Security Card, driver's license, passport, and credit cards.

What is the biggest regret in divorce? ›

Shame is one of the most toxic emotions associated with divorce. And people feel it for all sorts of reasons. Some people feel shame for “failing” at their marriages or putting on a brave face for too long. Others feel shame for being unfaithful, or for having a partner that was unfaithful to them.

Who regrets divorce more? ›

The recent Annual Relationship, Marriage, and Divorce Survey conducted by Avvo online marketplace for legal services found that men are more likely to regret breaking up than women. Of the 254 divorced women surveyed, only 27% said they regretted their divorce.

What is the average age of divorce for a woman? ›

The average age for newly married couples going through their first divorce in the United States is 30 years old. About 34% of all divorces initiate spouses aged 25 to 29. The percentage of people 55 to 64 years old who got divorced for the first time is about 43%.

What are the worst things about divorce? ›

Loneliness. Many people say that the loneliness is the hardest part. It takes a very long time to get used to being single. Not only have you lost your partner, and perhaps your best friend, but you have possibly also lost your in-laws and the extended family that you married into.

How damaging is divorce? ›

The stress of the situation can also cause the quality of parenting to suffer. Divorce frequently contributes to depression, anxiety or substance abuse in one or both parents and may bring about difficulties in balancing work and child rearing.

Is it better financially to be divorced? ›

"With divorce, it lowers your income, and it could put your child in a better place for financial aid," Hill says. Additional financial aid is a little-known benefit of divorce, but one that is significant.

Who initiates divorce more? ›

A study led by the American Sociological Association determined that nearly 70% of divorces are initiated by women. And the percentage of college-educated American women who initiated divorce is even higher.

What year of marriage has the highest rate of divorce? ›

While there are countless divorce studies with conflicting statistics, the data points to two periods during a marriage when divorces are most common: years 1 – 2 and years 5 – 8. Of those two high-risk periods, there are two years in particular that stand out as the most common years for divorce — years 7 and 8.

What is financial infidelity in a marriage? ›

Financial infidelity occurs when couples lie to each other about money matters. It can include things like hiding debt, hiding big purchases, and lying about income. Financial infidelity can drastically affect trust between partners and the financial stability of the relationship.

Why do men suffer after divorce? ›

Men Feel Lost and Alienated Due to Small Support Network

So when they go through a divorce, men often feel lost, alone, and alienated. They find it difficult to fully express and share their sorrow and unhappiness with people, including their parents, siblings, and long-time friends.

What kind of woman does a man regret losing? ›

Men regret losing the kind of woman who is emotionally independent, bold enough to take care of her own life and happiness, and kind to her near and dear ones. She doesn't look back after someone disrespects her and won't give in easily to the proposition of getting back together with that person.

Are people ever happier after a divorce? ›

While some may be happier after a divorce, research indicates most adults that divorce have lower levels of happiness and more psychological distress compared to married individuals. Divorce can bring up new conflicts between couples that cause more tension than when they were married.

What divorce does to a woman emotionally? ›

There are 5 common emotions people experience during the divorce process. They are often referred to as the 5 stages of grief. They include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Naturally, these expand to more nuanced emotions that vary based on your circumstances.

What pushes a woman to divorce? ›

A lack of love and affection

Can't remember the last time you said “I love you” or held your partner's hand? In a survey of 2,371 divorcees, nearly half blamed a lack of love and intimacy, making it the most common reason for ending a marriage, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

How long does it take a woman to recover from divorce? ›

“But the chaos won't last forever.” t usually takes about two years after a divorce to feel normal again, Stark says. During those 24 months, there are ways that help women heal, including talking out feelings, taking classes and even dating again.

Will I be poor after divorce? ›

This study found that single divorced women's median family income dropped 45 percent, while the median income of remarried or cohabiting women was 14 percent lower than before their divorce.

How do I rebuild my life after divorce at 50? ›

  1. How to adjust to life after divorce – Over 50s. ...
  2. Allow yourself time to grieve. ...
  3. Have a good support network. ...
  4. Focus on yourself. ...
  5. Ask yourself, “What do I value about myself?” ...
  6. Ask yourself “What do I want to achieve in life?” ...
  7. Try new things. ...
  8. Celebrate being single.

How do I protect myself from my husband's debt? ›

A prenuptial agreement is a contract you make with your fiancé to specify how assets and debts will be handled during the marriage and divided in the event of a divorce. With a prenup, you and your intended can agree to keep your debts separate and even specify who will be responsible for the monthly payments.

Is starting my life over after divorce hard? ›

It's a process that's extremely tough from start to finish, and you can still feel emotional weeks, months, and even years after you and your former partner have split. The residual anger, hurt, confusion, depression, and even self-blame don't just disappear once a divorce is finalized.

What percentage of people get back together after divorce? ›

According to the research, between 10-15% of couples reconcile after they separate. However, only about 6% of couples marry each other again after they divorce. Of those who remarry each other, about 30% go on to divorce each other a second time.

What does the Bible say about divorce? ›

In the first, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: “It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of porneia (sexual immorality), makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32).

How do I rebuild my life after divorce at 60? ›

Starting over: divorce after 60
  1. Get support. ...
  2. Be strong. ...
  3. Renew life. ...
  4. Seek help. ...
  5. Think well on the past to eliminate potential regret. ...
  6. Admit to yourself that, no matter how your situation got to this breaking point of wanting a divorce, you had a hand in it and plan to improve.
Jul 26, 2020

What is life really like after divorce? ›

Divorce, much like a marriage, tends to be a life-altering event. The process alone can bring plenty of changes, from quieter meals to an empty house, or even a new house. If you have children, your co-parenting schedule could mean spending days without them for the first time.

What to do financially when your husband leaves you? ›

How to Financially Protect Yourself in a Divorce
  1. Legally establish the separation/divorce.
  2. Get a copy of your credit report and monitor activity.
  3. Separate debt to financially protect your assets.
  4. Move half of joint bank balances to a separate account.
  5. Comb through your assets.
  6. Conduct a cash flow analysis.
Oct 28, 2021

How do you separate when you have no money? ›

Call your city or state bar association to ask for contact information or do an internet search to find them. These organizations provide no-cost (and also low-cost) legal assistance. If you are indigent, they may represent you at no cost and will file all fee waiver papers on your behalf.

What happens if I just leave my husband? ›

In other words, the courts can't force you or your spouse to stay in a marriage. The one who abandons the marriage will not be forced to return, but they will be held financially responsible for things such as child support, spousal support, and property division via a divorce court order.

How do you know when your marriage is beyond repair? ›

What does real trouble look like?
  • There's no emotional connection. ...
  • Communication breakdown. ...
  • Aggressive or confrontational communication. ...
  • There's no appeal to physical intimacy. ...
  • You don't trust them. ...
  • Fantasising about others. ...
  • You're not supporting each other and have different goals. ...
  • You can't imagine a future together.

Is an unhappy marriage better than divorce? ›

A 2002 study found that two-thirds of unhappy adults who stayed together were happy five years later. They also found that those who divorced were no happier, on average, than those who stayed together. In other words, most people who are unhappily married—or cohabiting—end up happy if they stick at it.

How do you tell if a man is unhappy in his marriage? ›

Subtle signs a man is stuck in an unhappy marriage
  1. 01/8​Subtle signs a man is stuck in an unhappy marriage. ...
  2. 02/8​He often jokes about leaving his wife. ...
  3. 03/8​He always has excuses not to be at home with his spouse. ...
  4. 04/8​You often hear him tell single guys to never get married. ...
  5. 05/8​He complains about his wife all the time.
May 31, 2021

Is it financially smart to get divorced? ›

"With divorce, it lowers your income, and it could put your child in a better place for financial aid," Hill says. Additional financial aid is a little-known benefit of divorce, but one that is significant.

How many years does it take to recover financially from a divorce? ›

It may take up to five years for an ex-spouse to regain his or her former financial equilibrium. A recent investors' survey revealed that most individuals recovered from both the psychological and financial setbacks following a divorce after a five-year adjustment period, as reported by Reuters.

How do I avoid financial ruins in a divorce? ›

Protecting Your Money in a Divorce
  1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney. Ideally, this person will emphasize mediation or collaborative divorce over litigation. ...
  2. Open accounts in your name only. ...
  3. Sort out mortgage and rent payments. ...
  4. Be prepared to share retirement accounts.

How do I live after divorce financially? ›

Once your divorce is final, there are several steps you can take to help protect your financial future.
  1. Establish separate accounts. ...
  2. Determine your post-divorce income. ...
  3. Set your new household budget. ...
  4. Start your own retirement plan. ...
  5. Decide what to do with the house.

Is it better financially to separate or divorce? ›

Financial Reasons: In marriage, your finances are tied to those of your spouse. If you believe your spouse will put their assets at risk, divorcing will be financially better. Legal separation typically does not entitle you to your spouse's assets, whereas a divorce would force a division of current assets.

How do I start over after divorce at 60? ›

Starting over: divorce after 60
  1. Get support. ...
  2. Be strong. ...
  3. Renew life. ...
  4. Seek help. ...
  5. Think well on the past to eliminate potential regret. ...
  6. Admit to yourself that, no matter how your situation got to this breaking point of wanting a divorce, you had a hand in it and plan to improve.
Jul 26, 2020

How do I start living again after divorce? ›

9 Self Help Tips to Heal & Find Happiness Following Divorce
  1. Don't ignore how you feel. ...
  2. Remember that change is always difficult. ...
  3. Ask for support from friends and family. ...
  4. Don't keep on providing fuel for your negative emotions. ...
  5. Seek professional help. ...
  6. It is possible to be friends. ...
  7. Remember that you will find happiness again.

What does the man lose in a divorce? ›

How does divorce financially affect men? Most men experience a 10–40% drop in their standard of living. Child support and other divorce-related payments, a separate home or apartment, and the possible loss of an ex-wife's income add up.

How to survive divorce as a woman? ›

Coping With Separation And Divorce
  1. Recognize that it's OK to have different feelings. ...
  2. Give yourself a break. ...
  3. Don't go through this alone. ...
  4. Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. ...
  5. Avoid power struggles and arguments with your spouse or former spouse. ...
  6. Take time to explore your interests. ...
  7. Think positively.

How can a woman protect herself in a divorce? ›

I. Ways to Protect Your Custody Rights and Your Children
  1. 1: Do Not Move Out if You Have Children. ...
  2. 2: Understand the Children Cannot Leave. ...
  3. 3: Demand Joint Legal Custody. ...
  4. 4: Cancel Joint Credit Cards. ...
  5. 5: Safeguard Joint Bank Accounts. ...
  6. 6: Cut Back on Expenses & Sell Extra Property.


1. Rebuilding After Financial Abuse
(Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group)
2. RESILIENCE & REBUILDING: Modern girl’s guide to divorce
(Ottawa Is Home By Adam Mills)
3. How to Recover Financially after Divorce | Handling Your Finances After a Divorce
(A Wiser Retirement)
4. Heartbreak to Breakthrough: Her Path to Financial Security and Independence
(The Table With AO)
5. How Women can Financially Prepare for Divorce and Not Ruin their ability to have Financial Freedom
(Your Wealth Guidance)
6. He's On A Break from Dating | She Saw Her Husband Marry Someone Else | Dating Streets | Toronto, ONT
(Dear Future Wifey)


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